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Kids & Screen Time: How to Use the 5 C's of Media Guidance

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Parenting around media can be hard. Technology changes rapidly and many parents didn't grow up with social media and video platforms that exist today. So, parents don't have the same understanding about how to teach our children to use digital media in the ways we would teach them to ride a bike or to drive a car.

It's also worth noting that we expect the products our children use—like food or toys—to be tested for safety. But there aren't any safety regulations around technology designs right now. This means that kids are using platforms and apps that might have been designed for adults—not kids at their different stages of development.

Beyond the 2-hour rule for screen time

We might wish for a simple solution or set of rules to follow, like the 2-hour screen time limit recommended in years past. But these don't address all of the things children and teens need to have a healthy relationship with media and to maintain emotional well-being.

To help, the American Academy of Pediatrics Center of Excellence on Social Media and Youth Mental Health developed a new approach. The 5 C's media use guidance offers easy-to-remember, age-based tips. It's based on research and what we know supports family relationships, social-emotional development and mental health. Find 5 C's tips for infants, toddlers and preschoolers, school-age children, young teens and older teens.

What are the 5 C's and how do they work?

The 5 C's of media use are based on the child, the content, ways to calm down, what media is crowding out and ongoing communication. 5 C's guidance for each age group starts with information about the developmental stages kids are going through and how this influences media use. It also describes healthy media habits to strive for at home. You can use these to build upon how you're already connecting with your kids.


Because children are all different, they don't each have the same risks and benefits from media. We encourage parents to think:

  • Who is your child, what is their personality? And how does this influence what media they are attracted to, and how it affects them?

  • Do they seek out wild content on video platforms, or does media help support a special artistic or musical talent?

  • Is social media feeding their social anxiety, or do they have a supportive friend group online?


Research shows that content quality shapes whether kids have positive or negative relationships with media. Learn about what your kids play or watch. Help them think about which videos and games they use that have too much violence, rude role-modeling, unrealistic beauty standards or commercialism.

Although these things "trend" on social media, they can influence kids' emotions and behavior. To find good replacement videos and games, Common Sense Media is a great resource.


All kids need to learn strategies for how to manage strong emotions or fall asleep at night, and sometimes media becomes their main go-to strategy. If this is the case, talk to friends, pediatricians, therapists or other supports for other ways to calm their brains and bodies down.


Depending on how much media your family is using and what time of day, it might be crowding out other things your family cares about.

Rather than just focusing on reducing screen time, help your family think about what they want to get back—such as family quality time, more sleep, going to the movies, playing with pets or time outdoors. Help kids recognize that digital media has lots of "hooks" that keep us online longer than we intended. That's why it helps to have a plan about when and where media is used every day.


Talk about media early and often. This is one way kids build digital literacy, and it helps you identify when your child or teen is struggling. It's normal to find this a stressful topic, so take a deep breath, try to be open-minded and ask questions. This helps reduce guilt and increases your problem-solving mindsets.

More information

Editor's note: The 5 C's were inspired and built upon the "3 C's advice about kids and screens" developed years ago by education expert and author Lisa Guernsey.

Funding for the AAP Center of Excellence on Social Media and Youth Mental Health was made possible by Grant No. SM087180 from SAMHSA of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, SAMHSA/HHS or the U.S. Government.

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American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Center of Excellence on Social Media and Youth Mental Health (Copyright © 2024)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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